A priest and a firefighter friend work to raise awareness about organ donation

HEIGHTS OF PERSPECTIVE – Father James Cunningham underwent a life-saving kidney transplant after being diagnosed with advanced kidney failure six years ago and is now busy raising awareness about the importance of organ donation.

“So many people are waiting for transplants. We need to think about what we can do to help others and are we prepared to never count the cost,” Fr. Cunningham, associate pastor of St. Francis de Sales Church in Belle Harbour, told Currents News .

In his case, the kidney came from a buddy of his, firefighter Pat Nash.

“As for the kidneys, you have two. You only need one,” Nash told Currents News.

Together, Father Cunningham and Nash work to raise awareness about organ donation.

[Related: Firefighter Gerhard Remembered As a Carpenter, Bridge Builder, Dedicated Member of FDNY]

New York State has one of the lowest organ donation rates in the country. In 2019, only 35% of New Yorkers over the age of 16 had registered to donate their vital organs, compared to a national average of 58%.

Currently, 8,000 New Yorkers are waiting for a transplant. While in other parts of the country patients typically wait one to two years to receive vital organ transplants, here they wait longer – sometimes three to five years.

The long wait is largely due to the shortage of available organs caused by a lack of donors. But that can change.

Since the tragic deaths of police officer Wilbert Mora and firefighter Jesse Gerhard – both organ donors – the organization LiveOnNY has reported a sharp increase in the volume of calls from people seeking information on how to register to become donors. . LiveOnNY is a non-profit organization that works to facilitate organ donation.

Mora’s gift, who was shot with fellow NYPD Officer Jason Rivera while responding to a domestic violence call in a Harlem apartment, has sparked a movement, “to embrace the gift of life and say yes to save lives of those in need,” LiveOnNY CEO Leonard Achan said in a statement.

Gerhard’s organs were donated after his death last month. He died after collapsing at his fire station in Far Rockaway. According to Achan, donating Gerhard’s organs could save up to 75 people.

Father James Cunningham (left) whose life was saved thanks to a transplant kidney donated by his friend, firefighter Pat Nash (right), said: ‘I wish there were more people like Pat Nash in the world. (Photo: courtesy of Father Cunningham)

The recent increase in organ donation requests has generated memories for Father Cunningham and Nash, both of whom speak out when and where they can to encourage people to become donors.

Six years ago, when the priest learned he was suffering from life-threatening kidney disease and needed a transplant, Nash quickly took the lead. He was tested and, when found to be a good walker, immediately agreed to participate in the transplant.

“I just felt like it was a no-brainer,” Nash said.

Father Cunningham still marvels at his friend’s generosity. “He never looked back, never hesitated and became a great example to others of the importance of being a living donor – how you change and save someone’s life,” said the priest.


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